By Jim Ferstle
Lance Armstrong is a survivor. He survived a broken home, essentially growing up without a father. He survived cancer. Now he has to survive a test of his own making. The USADA's "reasoned decision" as the file on the investigation of doping on the US Postal/Discovery teams documents has been labelled, documents in detail what has been known in the cycling community for years. Doping was part of the culture. It was perceived as the only way to the top of the sport and was part of the mantra: "Everybody is doing it."
Everybody wasn't doing it, but enough were to transform the sport of cycling. The same could be said during this era about other sports, including track and field, and with the introduction of blood doping and use of rhuEPO, distance running. At a conference on the topic of doping in sport in the late 1990s at Duke University, Alberto Salazar was one of the speakers. He told the group that he was reluctant to encourage his own kids or anybody else's to get into the sport because it was perceived that doping was necessary to rise to the top.
In 1984, John Treacy, an Irish runner who later that year won a silver medal in the Olympic marathon and already twice won the World XC Championships, walked into a bathroom at the Meadowlands prior to the start of that year's IAAF World XC championships. There he saw members of the Spanish team injecting themselves with a red substance in syringes. Years later, I was at the table in a restaurant in the New York Hilton during New York City Marathon weekend with John, Minnesotans Mark Nenow and Steve Plasencia, Steve Scott, and other top runners of the era.
Talk got around to doping, and John reiterated his own vehement opposition to the notion that you had to do it to succeed. He knew others were doping. He knew it was a big problem in the sport that wasn't being properly addressed by the sports governing bodies. But that didn't make him believe he had to dope. He derived great satisfaction, he said, by beating the runners he believed were doping. Today John is the head of the Irish Sports Council, whose anti-doping unit polices the doping issue in Ireland.
Running has always had the advantage of being an individual sport where you won or lost based on your own talent and ability to perform. It wasn't the sort of team effort or culture where others could be pressured to give in to the temptation to dope just to keep one's "job" or stay at that level of the sport. The pressure to dope just to survive wasn't as intense, yet, as the recent case of California runner Christian Hesch illustrates, doping can be a strong temptation not only for Olympic level athletes, but for others as well.
Hesch only came forward with a confession of his guilt for using rhuEPO after he was caught by teammates who threatened to turn him in to USADA. Armstrong missed his first opportunity to join the other cyclists who admitted their use of drugs and accept a more lenient punishment by helping the agency attempt to get at the roots of the problem, the suppliers, enablers of doping that make the practice possible. Thomas Bach, and IOC VP, has urged Armstrong not to miss another, to "come clean," to essentially be part of the solution to the doping in sports cycle instead of part of the problem.
When Armstrong got cancer he devoted his considerable energy and determination toward dealing with his illness. Then he took one step further by trying to be part of the solution to the curse of cancer. Nobody expects him to confess. To tell all he knows about the dark underbelly of sports. But it would be, perhaps, a greater achievement than finishing first in the Tour de France seven times. If Lance Armstrong wants to be remembered for what he did for sport, he has a chance to step up and be remembered not as what Greg LeMond has called the sport's greatest fraud, but rather as someone who contributed to changing the course of modern sport. If he wants to be remembered for the good he has done or forgiveness for the damage he's caused, now is the time to earn it.